Pre-Owned Profile: 1991-1994 Nissan Sentra

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author photo by John Rettie December 1998

Nissan's Sentra offers good value for the money as a pre-owned car.

The Japanese manufacturers are renowned for their subcompact cars -- Honda for its Civic, Toyota for its Tercel and Corolla. Nissan's entry in this niche is the Sentra which for fifteen years has been built in America.

The Sentra manufactured between 1991 and 1994 is somewhat spartan compared to the current model. Indeed, today's Sentra, introduced in 1995, is regarded as one of the better subcompact cars on the market and it offers a lot of refinement at a relatively low price. The Sentra proves that thinking beyond Toyota and Honda can pay off handsomely when searching for a pre-owned Japanese car.

A note on prices: Nissan has become the underdog of the big three Japanese companies in the U.S. during the past few years. With big debt at home and shrinking sales in the U.S., Nissan hasn't been attracting new-car buyers to its products as much as Honda or Toyota.

Because of this Nissan has tended to sell more cars to car rental companies than Honda or Toyota. This can be a major benefit for somebody looking for a pre-owned car as there should be a larger supply of low-mileage cars on the market. Most cars coming from the major rental fleets are in good condition so there is little problem in purchasing one of these cars.

Whether a rental or a privately owned car, a used Sentra should prove reliably and useful over its long life.

What You Need To Know:

1. Review of a 1992 Nissan Sentra

2. Summary of Good and Bad Points by Owners

3. History of Sentra

4. Review of Current Model

5. Basic Facts

6. Changes Year-to-Year

7. Safety Information

8. Value Guide

9. Option Installment Rate

10. Sales History

11. Awards and Commendations Earned

12. Other Reviews

13. Recall Information

14. Price of Spare Parts

1. Pre-Owned Vehicle Review -- 1992 Nissan Sentra E

Likes: solid subcompact car

Dislikes: dated looks, slow acceleration with automatic transmission

Competitors: Chevrolet Cavalier, Ford Escort, Dodge/Plymouth Neon, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Saturn.

Miles: 76,000

Condition: B-

Price new: $11,600 (est.)

Estimated 1998 value: $6,100

In seeking out test cars, we tend to look for models made in the past four years. This particular base-model Sentra was somewhat older than most cars I test. We reasoned that, in this case, it would be a good idea to try an older Sentra, since there are plenty on the market and since the model was replaced with a totally new design in 1995.

The two-door Sentra I drove had average mileage for a car of its age. It was powered by the base 1.6-liter four cylinder engine coupled to an automatic transmission. Half of the Sentras sold in 1992 were two-door models and half had manual transmissions -- a figure way above average, even for a small car.

I expected the performance to be marginal with the auto transmission as it has such a small engine. However, as it puts out a respectable 110 horsepower, it didn't have to work as hard as some small engines to get reasonable acceleration. As always, though, I'd still recommend going for a car with a manual transmission, if you don't mind doing your own shifting.

The car still handled quite well and there were no untoward squeaks or rattles. The brakes were noisy but I suspect that was from lack of use as much as anything. As in many cars of this era, the most annoying flaw is the passive restraint seat belt system. In theory they work automatically, but most users unlatch the shoulder belts from the door to avoid getting tangled up in them. Then they all too easily forget to buckle up the lap belt, which is separate from the shoulder belt. Real manual three-point belts did not reappear until 1995 when the car as redesigned, even though air bags were available as an option from 1993 on.

The interior on this base-model Sentra is quite spartan, with cheap plastic panels on the doors. The instrument panel is also a simple affair with just two gauges. An aftermarket radio had been fitted in the car I tested, and it had poor speakers mounted on the rear parcel shelf. The two cupholders are pullout affairs, which are not as convenient as permanent receptacles. Trunk space is not bad for a small car but there is a lack of carpeting on the wheelwells in the trunk which makes the interior noisier than it need be.

I found the front seats to be quite comfortable with more shape to them than in many low-cost cars. Front-seat head room is okay, but it's not so good in the rear, especially in the two-door coupe. Needless to say it's a squeeze getting in and out of the rear as well. It's not surprising to see the number of two-door Sentras sold dropping year by year.

The car I drove had a four-speed automatic transmission, but watch out for models prior to 1993 being equipped with the old three-speed auto transmission or a four-speed manual. Nissan dealers were still selling a few Sentras equipped this way as low-price cars to entice buyers into the showroom.

Overall, this particular Sentra drove better than it looked. It demonstrated how Japanese cars stand up well in the mechanical area even if their owners neglect the body and interior.

2. Summing It Up - Owners' Views

Good: N/A

Bad: N/A

Verbatims: N/A

3. History of Sentra

Nissan first introduced the Sentra model in 1982 as its entry-level model in the U.S. Most Sentras sold in the U.S. have been built in Nissan's factory in Tennessee since 1985, although some were imported from Japan each year. The second-generation Sentra was introduced in 1987 and resembled European cars of the era in looks. It received a rounder body in 1991, without much change to the chassis.

The fourth-generation Sentra was introduced in 1996 on a heavily revised platform, which is three inches longer than the previous models. Its styling closely resembles that of the larger Altima and is only available as a four-door model. A two-door coupe called the 200SX was derived from the Sentra. Due to lack of sales it disappeared at the end of the 1998 model year.

4. Review of Current Sentra

In many ways the current Sentra has moved the needle in terms of refinement for a subcompact car. It offers a good ride and a quiet interior one expects in much more expensive cars. In keeping with the Nissan family looks it can easily be mistaken for an Altima from a distance as it looks much bigger than it is in reality. In actual fact the new model is only marginally bigger than the old one, so it is still fairly cramped for much more than two adults and two kids.

However, those who enjoy driving a car with good handling and a smooth ride will like the newest Sentra. It has all of that and more, especially when equipped with the manual transmission. Until 1998 the only engine offered was the 115-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine which has been the staple engine for many years. Now the 2.0-liter engine, which produces 140 hp, is available in the sedan as well as in the soon-to-disappear 200SX. This engine turns the car into quite a decent small sporty sedan.

5. Basic Facts: 1991 - 1994 Sentra

Vehicle Type: Subcompact Sedan/Coupe

No. Passengers: up to five

Origin of assembly: Smyrna, TN and Japan

Engine (standard): 1.6-liter 110 hp DOHC I-4

(optional): 2.0-liter 140 hp DOHC I-4

Transmission: 5-spd manual, 4-spd. automatic; front-drive

Length: 170 inches

Wheelbase: 96 inches

Width: 66 inches

Height: 54 inches

Curb weight: 2400 lbs. (approx.)

Cargo volume: 12 cu. ft.

Fuel tank capacity: 13.2 gals.

Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway): 29/38 (1.6-liter, manual); 27/35 (1.6-liter, auto); 24/32 (2.0-liter, manual); 23/30 (2.0-liter, auto)

6. Changes in the Nissan Sentra Line 1992 - 1999

1992 Model Year

No changes following redesign in 1991.

1993 Model Year

Driver-side airbag standard on GXE, optional on other models. Redesigned grille, headlights and taillights freshen up look. Old three-speed automatic and four-speed manual transmission options dropped. Passive seat belts remain on all cars.

1994 Model Year

XE model gets more standard equipment, such as A/C. Passive seat belts still remain on all models.

1995 Model Year

All new model introduced with increased interior space and a totally different body. The two-door version is dropped and replaced with the 200SX. Engine and powertrain are also upgraded.

1996 Model Year

No changes

1997 Model Year

Improvements to suspension mounting points help make interior quieter.

1998 Model Year

New SE model added powered by 2.0-liter engine.

Other models get revised grille and other minor changes.

1999 Model Year

Minor revisions to nose for second year in a row.

Minor change sin option packages

7. Safety Notes

NHTSA Crash rating (1996 on): Driver 4; Passenger 4 (5 is best)

Driver side air bag standard from 1993 on GXE, optional on other models.

8. Value Guide:

Prices listed are for base models. Options can add considerably to the lowest price listed as these are usually "stripped" models. In many cases, very few vehicles are ever sold at the lowest price listed! Source: Kelley Blue Book

1992 Model Year

New: $8,795 to $14,290

1993 Model Year

New: $9,345 to $15,370

1994 Model Year

New: $10,709 to $16,129

1995 Model Year

New: $11,404 to $15,854

1996 Model Year

New: $11,919 to $16,449

1997 Model Year

New: $11,969 to $16,669

1998 Model Year

New: $12,000 to $17,700

9. Option Installment Rate

Generally, when you order a new car you have a choice of factory-installed options. When you buy a used vehicle the choice is limited to what was actually installed on vehicles sold in that model year. Use this option installment rate as a guide to the chances of finding particular options on a used vehicle. Source: Ward's Automotive Yearbooks

1992 Model Year

Installment Rate


1.6-liter (DOHC) 92%

2.0-liter (DOHC) 8%


Auto 46%

Manual 54%

Body Style:

2-door sedan 59%

4-door sedan 41%

Air Conditioning: 64%

Cruise Control: 47%

ABS Brakes: 2%

Power Steering: 82%

Power Windows: 5%

1993 Model Year

Installment Rate


1.6-liter (DOHC) 95%

2.0-liter (DOHC) 5%


Auto 62%

Manual 38%

Body Style:

2-door sedan 47%

4-door sedan 53%

Air Conditioning: 77%

Cruise Control: 80%

ABS Brakes: 1%

Power Steering: 87%

Power Windows: 3%

1994 Model Year

Installment Rate


1.6-liter (DOHC) 99%

2.0-liter (DOHC) 1%


Auto 64%

Manual 36%

Body Style:

2-door sedan 29%

4-door sedan 71%

Air Conditioning: 90%

Cruise Control: 96%

ABS Brakes: 14%

Power Steering: 94%

Power Windows: 20%

Remote/Keyless Entry: n/a%

1995 Model Year (new model)

Installment Rate


1.6-liter (DOHC) 100%


Auto 76%

Manual 24%

Air Conditioning: 97%

Cruise Control: 72%

ABS Brakes: 3%

Power Steering: 97%

Power Windows: 72%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 11%

1996 Model Year

Installment Rate


1.6-liter (DOHC) 100%


Auto 75%

Manual 25%

Air Conditioning: 98%

Cruise Control: 88%

ABS Brakes: 1%

Power Steering: 98%

Power Windows: 88%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 10%

1997 Model Year

Installment Rate


1.6-liter (DOHC) 100%


Auto 81%

Manual 19%

Air Conditioning: 98%

Cruise Control: 87%

ABS Brakes: 1%

Power Steering: 100%

Power Windows: 87%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 5%

10. Production/Sales Volume History:

Normally a model year runs from October to September. Often though, when a new version is introduced it hits the market before October. Legally, a model year can start as early as January of the preceding year. Accurate model year sales counts are almost impossible to collect as different model year vehicles are regularly sold side-by-side for several months. Production figures, when listed, include vehicles made for export to Canada, Mexico and overseas. Source: manufacturers

1992 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1991 through Sept. 1992

Total number produced: n/a

Total no. sold in U.S.: 163,000 (est.)

1993 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1992 through Sept. 1993

Total number produced: n/a

Total no. sold in U.S.: 162,000 (est.)

1994 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1993 through Jan. 1995

Total number produced: n/a

Total no. sold in U.S.: 223,229

1995 Model Year

Production run: Feb. 1995 through Sept. 1995

Total number produced: n/a

Total no. sold in U.S.: 86,244

1996 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1995 through Sept. 1996

Total number produced: n/a

Total no. sold in U.S.: 133,826

1997 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1996 through Sept. 1997

Total number produced: n/a

Total no. sold in U.S.: 126,241

1998 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1997 through Sept. 1998

Total number produced: n/a

Total no. sold in U.S.: 88,017

11. Awards and Commendations


"One of the lowest maintenance costs in its class (Base Model)" - IntelliChoice


"One of the best overall values in its class -- IntelliChoice 1997

"Best Bet for 1997 (subcompact class)" -- The Car Book by Jack Gillis


"One of the best overall values in its class (Subcompact)" - IntelliChoice

"One of the best overall values in its class (Subcompact over $14,000)" - IntelliChoice

"One of the lowest maintenance costs in its class (Subcompact Class)" - IntelliChoice

"Best Buy" - Consumers Digest

"Best Bet for 1998 (subcompact class)" - The Car Book by Jack Gillis


Auto magazines tend to ignore economy cars other than when they are first introduced. The Sentra was welcomed as a good quality subcompact car when this model was first introduced in 1988. The restyling in 1991 hardly grabbed any headlines.

" One of the Sentra's notable features is its Maxima-like "scissor-link" rigid-axle rear suspension. . . . The new-suspension car feels softer over bumps, while retaining most of the precise and crisp control of last year's car. The shifter is light and quick, and the control stalks and switches for lights and wipers feel like they're high quality." -- Car and Driver 1995 Buyers Guide

13. Recalls (Only major recalls listed)

ID Number: 98V093000

Year: 1995-1998

Year of Recall: '98

Potential Number of Units Affected: 512,387

Summary: Passenger vehicles. Water can enter and displace the grease in the wiper arm linkage ball joint where the wiper linkage attaches to the wiper motor linkage. This can result in gradual wear over a period of time inside the joint that could lead to the separation of the wiper linkage assembly from the wiper motor linkage at the ball joint. A loss of windshield wiper function can result in this separation occurs.

ID Number: 98V008000

Year: 1996-1997

Year of Recall: '98

Potential Number of Units Affected: 65,000

Summary: These vehicles do not meet the illumination requirements of FMVSS No. 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment." Following vehicles may not be aware that the vehicle in front is stopping, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash. Owners will be provided with two new light bulbs for the stop/tail lamps, which are brighter than the original bulbs.

14. Cost of Parts (relative to other vehicles)

Headlight unit: $110 (above average)

Side marker lamp: $36 (below average)

Door (left front): $516 (above average)

Fender (left front): $121 (below average)

Note: these are estimated retail prices for commonly replaced body parts on a 1995 model. Prices are current as of mid-1998 but will vary from region to region and are subject to change at any time. Source: ADP Collision

The Rettie Report and Pre-Owned Profiles contain objective information from a variety of sources. The subjective comments are those of John Rettie.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Pre-Owned Profile: 1991-1994 Nissan Sentra - Autotrader